“What do you think of when you think of Romania?” “Vampires and…Kraft_Made” is what I would have said if you’d asked back in early 2014 when I first started following the Transylvania-based textile artist on Instagram. I, like many of us do, follow tons of accounts whose owners I know nothing about and @Kraft_Made was one of my favorites. I loved the aesthetic, the vision, and the voice of the account long before I knew it was a she and that she had a name: Marlene Stanciu Herberth.
I’m not sure how we found each other online. Probably in the same way that I’ve developed other distant friendships on the social network (Shout out to Annalisa Chelli of Prato, Italy, Zayaan Khan of Gaeb, South Africa just to name a couple): The Algorithm! We love fibers, we love colors, we love community. It’s our digital destiny to find one another.
Marlene and I became regular cheerleaders for each other’s posts. “I love what you’re doing here,” “What material is that?,” “Check out this artist, you’d find inspiration in it, for sure.” I felt like we had a lot in common (and that she felt it too) and I knew something about who she was even though I had no idea what she looked like, what her politics were, what she sounded like, or what her life was like outside of the tiny lens of my smartphone.
Traditional Transylvanian Garment, Cincu, Romania
When I was accepted to an artist residency program in Sofia, Bulgaria (the southern neighbor to Romania) for the summer of 2017, it didn’t take long for me to ask myself , “what have I got to lose?” And sent Marlene an unsolicited email:
April 28, 2017
I hope this email finds you well. I’m going to be traveling to Bulgaria this summer and I know you are based in Romania. Perhaps we could meet, if you’re interested. Where do you live? I’ve admired your work for a while and I hope to connect soon.
She responded right away…
This is such a wonderful surprise, you are very welcome to my home in the village of Cincu (Brasov county, Transylvania) to spend some days together! I love your work and it would be such an honor to exchange ideas with you!
Ok, yes, maybe I had something to lose. This is a stranger, right? I have no idea where I’m going, right? What might they want from me on the other end? Despite my then 28 years of life experience informed by tragic news reports and budget horror films alike, I trusted my gut and booked a ticket from Sofia to Bucharest to visit my friend.
Accompanied by a dear friend from college, Grace, who was visiting Eastern Europe at the time, I arrived at the train stop in Fagaras, Transylvania on a hot summer day to find sweet Marlene waiting for us. What followed was a magical week of cooking, laughing and exploring. We filled in the gaps of the friendship that had already formed. I examined her loom closely, sharing tricks from my practice and listening intently to hers. I met the local people in her small town of Cincu and surveyed the textiles and objects they use annually to accompany important traditions and ceremonies. We compared our geographies, our cultures, our traditions and our experiences. Marlene told us about the folklore including one anecdote about a remedy for a struggling relationship (spend one month in the top of the town’s fortified church (which, by the way Grace, climbed to the very tip top like a spider)). We were thousands of miles from home but Marlene made us feel loved and connected.
Empowered by finally bridging the gap between our digital friendship and our local friendship, Marlene, Grace and I dreamed of a way to expand this discovery and of ways to bring our practices together. Our goodbyes were accompanied by promises to research grants, contact partners, and develop programs. I’ll admit, it felt unlikely, an intimidating amount of work considering the circumstances, but I loved the dream. I knew something would come from it but I had no idea how exciting it would be and how quickly it would mature.
Fast forward – its only one year later and I’m printing my plane ticket to Romania to participate in “Kraftmaking the Future: Fibers and Foraging Heritage in Transylvania”. That summer I ended up teaching two weaving workshops, iterating a performance of “Mordant” and collecting interviews and footage for what would eventually become the seeds of Woman Interwoven. The year afterwards, Marlene came to New York where we exhibited the work we had produced individually and together in collaboration with other friends including Abigail Doan, Zayaan Khan, and Kristin Kremers. With funding from the Romanian Administration of the National Cultural Fund and support from the University of Arts and Design in Cluj and the Textile Arts Center in Brooklyn, NY – we were really doing it!
Marlene and my shared and overlapping stories continue to evolve and I’m so excited about her contributions to Woman Interwoven.
I could talk all day about why I love textiles (luckily, that’s kind of my job as an educator and an artist) but perhaps the one thing I love most is its power to connect us. The disparate communities of craft-makers around the globe have held their societies' most cherished traditions and necessities for all of human history. And now, the Internet has expanded that beyond the geographical borders that have, until now, kept us separated.
You can follow all involved here:
Marlene Herberth (https://www.instagram.com/kraft_made/)
Kristin Kremers (https://www.instagram.com/kristinkremers/)
Abigail Doan (https://www.instagram.com/abigaildoanstudio/)
Zayaan Khan (https://www.instagram.com/zay.k47/)
Victoria Manganiello (https://www.instagram.com/victoriamanganiello/)
KraftMaking the Future. Fibers and Foraging Heritage in Transylvania was a workshop that took place during the summer of 2018 in Cincu for a selection of the best MA students of the Fashion Design Department/University of Arts and Design Cluj-Napoca. This workshop aimed to show, theoretically and practically, how sustainable practices and connection to culture and place narratives can be integrated in the fashion industry and creation of textiles. Results of the workshop and documentary were be presented first at Textile Arts Center (New York) and University of Arts and Design (Cluj-Napoca). Workshop concept and host: Soxen Association. Lecturers and workshop materials: Abigail Doan (USA), Zayaan Khan (South Africa), Victoria Manganiello (USA), Marlene Stanciu (Romania). Filmmaker: Kristin Kremers (USA). Project coordination on behalf of University of Arts and Design/Fashion Design Department: Prof.univ.dr. Elena Basso Stănescu and Conf.univ.dr. Lucian Broscățean.